Being an evil overlord is not without its perks. One of them is having minions willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. The other one is a full dental plan… well, probably – I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
Minion Masters is a straightforward mix of several genres and further proof that simple designs often work best. An unassuming blend of Tower Defense, MOBA and CCG genres, it was fine-tuned until perfection, turning into an addictive game that grabs you by the throat and never lets go. It’s in the same vein of other hits such as Clash Royale, but it does enough to stand on its own. Despite its deceiving mobile looks, Minion Masters is available on PC and Xbox One and is ideal for short bursts of gameplay.
Say Hello to My Little Friends
While Minion Masters seems buoyed by a humble core mechanic, there is a lot going on under the hood. Two masters go head to head in a single-screen arena with two bridges, doing so by unleashing an army of minions that aren’t directly under your control. You just choose the minions that you want to deploy on your side of the battlefield and watch as they autonomously attack your rival’s minions, with the destruction of the tower being the ultimate goal. No micro-management is necessary, but that luxury is replaced by the need to plan ahead and counter the opponent’s tactics. There is little to no luck or randomness involved in a battle, it’s mostly about choosing your cards right and waiting for the right time to summon your minions.
It all starts with your Master. The starter master is the Stormbringer, but there is a weekly rotation of two Masters, and you can unlock more by spending in-game currency such as Shards or Rubies. Picking your Master is very important as they play a vital role during the match, with strengths and weaknesses that are put to the test every second. Taking the example of the fiery Master Volco, he is terribly effective at dealing with ground minions with his volcanic hammer, but he is utterly helpless against flying creatures, unable to reach them as they eat away at his health.
Each player has a deck of 10 cards and using each card requires a certain number of mana points. Mana accrues over time and the secret to success is finding a perfect balance between summoning lowly, speedier creatures to overwhelm your opponent and more powerful minions capable of dealing heavy damage, without neglecting the crucial air units. This is easier said than done, as you must be prepared to face different decks and react to wholly different approaches. Timing is everything, as you need to swiftly respond to your opponent’s moves, summoning whatever minions you have at your disposal – you only have a selection of four cards at any given time.
It’s not just about the way the units effectively counter each other and how everything seems to fall into place when you know what you’re doing; it’s a matter of using whatever means you have at your disposal to tip the scale in your favor, including spell cards and, most importantly, capturing the bridges.
Bridges are a game-changing factor. When one of your minions crosses a bridge, it will be captured for your team, increasing the rate at which you earn experience points during a match. This experience will gradually unlock perks that are specific to each Master. The ultimate stage of this mechanic is turning any experience points into mana, resulting into frenetic match endings with minions spawning in every corner of the map.
Deck the Arena
The way that you build your deck is going to make or break your chances in the arena. As you level up you earn chests containing cards of different rarities. Slowly but surely your minion horde will increase, turning the previously simple act of choosing a few cards into a complicated and nail-biting process. Currently offering over 160 cards, this leads to a near infinite amount of combinations and strategies that guarantee you will always find a worthy opponent, no matter how good you think you are. Nothing like a good thrashing to get you back in your place, with the corresponding Battle Rank penalty to boot.
Cards are played in the same order as you chose them for the first round, so a bit of remembering goes a long way. You can upgrade the cards’ Glory with Shards, but don’t worry, this doesn’t affect anything concerning game balance – this only translates into the amount of Glory that you earn for your Battle Pass rewards.
Don’t be afraid of change. Experiment often, learn all the ins and outs of each card and dismiss those that feel redundant or too similar to other cards that you have. You can create several predefined decks, but this option is lacking as you have no way to study your opponent’s deck pre-match and choose your starting hand accordingly. You can still create different decks by peeking at the leaderboards in the hopes of striking gold, but if that were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Minion Masters isn’t just about 1v1 battles, either; you can indulge in 2v2 matches as well with a random companion, doubling the units, the chaos and the fun as well. Other game modes exist but, personally speaking, they aren’t strictly necessary, as Minion Masters has such a simple and sound core mechanic that it works flawlessly without extra flourishes. The Expeditions mode turns the game on its head by placing you in a tabletop game environment, with a map to explore, enemies to fight and rewards to collect. Draft mode is about selecting your Master and deck from a small selection on offer, and you have a couple other modes such as Mayhem and Challenges.
Essentially, Minion Masters offers a few variations of the standard gameplay, but some of them feel unnecessary or convoluted. They also contribute to spreading the player base even further, something that isn’t an issue right now but could eventually become a problem when there aren’t many players online.
The simple yet addictive gameplay of Minion Masters has very few rivals. Clash Royale immediately comes to mind but BetaDwarf’s game has more depth to it. The almost unlimited possibilities and infinite outcomes ensure that you’ll always be on your toes, and the addition of new cards will frequently make you rethink your strategies.
Minion Masters is suited for short gameplay sessions that eventually will transform into dozens of hours spent trying to find the best cards for your style. This is the definition of addictive and challenging, not quite easy to learn since you have tons of cards to evaluate, but certainly hard to master, in an entertaining kind of way. Give it time and it will steal it from you, battle after battle.
Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest ones. Obviously, Minion Masters isn’t entirely original, taking hints from a broad range of games including Plants vs Zombies and Clash Royale. It’s not the most groundbreaking idea ever, far from it, but it has the merit of doing the best that it can with its sources of inspiration.
Learning Curve: 8/10
It’s incredibly easy to delve into Minion Masters and have fun, thanks to the accomplished UI and deceptively simple controls during the battles – on the other hand, the main menu quickly becomes cluttered beyond belief. You won’t find any issues with the game’s design, being only a matter of mastering the mechanics and having fun.
Graphics / Sound: 6/10
Under the guise of a mobile game lies a fully functional beating heart. It’s not a matter of graphics, but what there is is enough to convey the necessary visual info. It’s colorful and cartoonish, with several fireworks moments that never get in the way of your understanding of the events.
Music is ominous and sprinkled with war drums, aptly suited to the barrage of shots and demises taking place in each battle. The announcer isn’t shy about commenting some of the key moments, but his weird pitch tends to get on my nerves.
Value for Money: 8/10
Judging by the endless number of hours that you’re going to spend on Minion Masters, it feels like a steal. You should feel bad for playing such an addictive and well-rounded game without spending some pocket money now and then to support ongoing development. Don’t be that guy.
Minion Masters is proof that free-to-play doesn’t necessarily equal pay-to-win. Sure, luck comes into play to unlock new cards, but these remain with the same stats from the moment you earn them, so there is no advantage to paying players. You can purchase Masters’ skins, new arenas and the like, but you can’t purchase addictive gameplay – fact.
It’s not by chance that Minion Masters offers some tremendous and exciting gameplay. A couple of years in Early Access were put to great use to give it some serious spit and polish, until it was deemed ready for unleashing into an unsuspecting crowd. Don’t judge Minion Masters for its simple looks; It will spellbind you with its fast-paced and challenging battles before the first couple of battles are over.
• “Insanely simple, deceptively fun” – for once, marketing isn’t lying.
• More cards than you can shake a minion at
• Nearly infinite amount of strategies to experiment with
• Cards can’t be boosted, leveling the playing field
• More game modes than needed
• The announcer will get on your nerves
• I don’t have the luxury of becoming addicted to this